How many ghost peppers should I substitute for 1-2 habaneros in my pickle recipe?

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Ghost chiles are extremely, extremely hot.  When developing our own ghost chile recipes, we always follow this simple rule: start small!  It’s better to end up with something that isn’t hot enough than something that’s too hot to eat.  You can always adjust the recipe based on your results.

According to the scoville numbers we have on our chile heat scale, ghost chilies have a heat level between 300,000 and 400,000 units.  Habaneros are rated between 100,000 and 200,000.  However, scoville is a rough approximation of heat at best, and can vary with where/how the chiles were grown.  Given that our dried ghost chiles are wild (and thus even less predictable), I wouldn’t bank on those numbers…though they are useful for getting a rough sense of things.

For a recipe calling for 1-2 habaneros per jar, I’d start with a single ghost per jar at the absolute most (and expect it to be significantly hotter).  You could clip the ghost into smaller pieces with culinary shears (or slice after reconstituting it) to use even less.  Just keep in mind that a lot of the capsaicin (the stuff that makes chiles hot) is on the seeds and inner ribs, so if you’re steeping cutting the chile open may actually make the food it’s in hotter by giving the liquid easier access.

Another trick we use to keep ghost chile heat under control is steeping rather than pureeing or steeping for less time.  I’m not sure what technique you use to get the heat in your pickling brine, but if you normally pack habaneros in the jar, you might consider just steeping a whole ghost chile per jar or two in your brine until you like the heat level (taste occasionally) and then pulling it out before putting the brine in the jar with your cucumbers.

In our recent ghost chile hot sauce recipe, we got comfortable heat (noticeable, but not that spicy) just steeping a single ghost chile for the amount of time it took water to boil.

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– Question Submitted by Gerry

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